Trump’s Truth-in-Advertising Problem in Campaign Financing

Economics Politicians Politics

            Marble Falls       Sometimes you have to give the devil his due.  Karl Rove gained his reputation as a Republican strategy wizard for his work with George Bush, the second.  Subsequently, he has continued to take up important real estate in the party and on the more moderate-right with his election funds and his regular column among the Wall Street Journal op-ed screeds.  In fact, in the Journal, compared to the other Chicken Little columnists and its own editorial page, he often comes off as a relative voice of some reason.  He’s always been respectful of former president Trump as a political powerhouse and savant, while also not being exactly a frontline cheerleader for him and his team.

Whatever your views of Rove, he makes some solid points in looking at Trump’s recent report on his campaign finances to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), wondering if they are more of defense fund that a campaign fund, saying…

Federal Election Commission fundraising reports show Mr. Trump has spent more money this year on lawyers than on campaigning. Politico found that his joint fundraising committee took in $53.8 million from Jan. 1 to June 30 but has spent $57 million, supplementing with cash on hand it raised last year. Of that spending, $21.6 million went to lawyers. That’s more than Team Trump spent on attorneys for all of 2021 and 2022 combined, when they put only $16 million into legal expenses. In addition, it cost Mr. Trump’s campaign $17 million to raise that nearly $54 million. That leaves about $18.4 million for everything else—advertising, staff, travel, rallies and organization. A case can be made that Team Trump needs less of some of those things—especially television—than other candidates. Still, he’s increasingly diverting his campaigning cash to lawyers. Mr. Trump’s legal bills will grow astronomically as multiple trials approach. It’s not clear he can fund his campaign and pay his lawyers, especially in a general election.

Rove doesn’t even mention the fact that it has been widely reported that his campaign is trying to claw back $60 million that his political action committee had donated to his other campaign funds.  Some campaign finance experts question whether it is legal for him to use PAC money for his personal legal expenses.  Others wonder why he’s not using his own money to pay for his own defense, but most of us know even the smallest grifter doesn’t like to go into their own pockets. He might also believe that of all his legal problems, issues with campaign finance are the least of them, so hit every piggy bank around as hard as you can.

Trump continues to use every legal setback as a fundraising opportunity, which at one level just seems tactically brilliant to me, turning weakness into strength, but on another level is simply a giant scam, when he’s raising money with a plea for more get-out-the-vote cash, and instead using it to pay off his lawyers.  Rove massages the numbers to divine some question whether his small donors are starting to wonder where the money is really going.  I’m not sure about that, but I’ll bet any potential big donors would definitely want assurances that there is some truth in his advertising.

One thing Trump knows for certain.  There’s no law against lying in politics.  At the same time, people don’t like to be suckers, so he needs to be careful.  Furthermore, financing presidential elections is a billion-dollar enterprise, and the more he keeps robbing Peter to pay Paul, the farther he could fall behind when it counts in the general election.